The Active Aspect of Chanting Amitabha
Good evening, dear Dharma friends. I speak on this topic today because some Buddhists feel that chanting Amitabha is a practice only for beginners or the uneducated, while some non-Buddhists mistake chanting for something passive and evasive; therefore I feel a need to explain that chanting Amitabha is actually a very active endeavor. First, I would like to explain the reason for chanting Amitabha . Someone may ask: what is the point of merely repeating a few words orally? It does not seem likely that worldly problems could be solved by chanting Amitabha ; yet some people even chant full time. How could people simply ignore worldly matters?
Why is chanting Amitabha an active endeavor? First, we need to ask whether there are problems in the world, and how could those problems really be resolved? The common answer is undoubtedly that we can solve those problems by various political and economic means; however, we all know that the efficacy of those means of solving problems is all very limited. Even if laws are very well written, when people are unethical, not only would they take advantage of legal loopholes, but would also misuse the law to commit immoral activities. However, when people are good, negative things would not happen even if relevant laws do not exist. Therefore, the fundamental solution depends on everyone having a pure heart.
If everyone's heart is pure, problems in life would be fewer; even when problems do arise, people would help each other out. Let's investigate carefully. Everyone encounters problems in life such as birth, aging, sickness, death, etc. When someone is having these problems, how much help can you give him or her? Strictly speaking, all forms of worldly help are all very superficial. Even if the social welfare system is very well established and most people are helpful toward one another, there would still be people who haggle about everything and live in vexation for their whole lives.
The United States is probably the richest and strongest country in the world, but you can see that although American youngsters are relatively wealthy, they still have many problems such as drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, AIDS, and mental illness often leading to suicide. They are living in a very good environment, unlike some Africans, who may be suffering from starvation. Why do young Americans have so much unhappiness? The reason is that nobody teaches them how to solve their fundamental life problems. Therefore, it shows that if there is no peace and tranquillity of mind, even extensive external help cannot solve those problems. In general, we would find it tiresome even when taking care of only a few who are our own children, not to mention taking care of lots of people; so helping others is a very difficult task. Therefore, in order to really, fundamentally, and thoroughly solve the problems and help oneself as well as others, we need to make sure that everyone will have peace of mind.
In order to help us attain peace of mind the Buddhist teachings do not proceed by indoctrination with a set of concepts, nor does it teach everyone to fit into a single mold. If, however, the Dharma imposed a uniform model on us, then no matter how good such a method might be, competition and struggles would still persist in the world. This is because everyone has his or her natural needs, but good supplies of things are limited, and hence selfish thoughts and activities would arise. Consequently, it is very difficult to make people conform to systems or institutions.
However, what Buddha teaches us is a method that can thoroughly solve those problems of life. This method does not impose anything extra upon us. It says that all of us basically have a primordially existent aspect which is very pure and good. As long as this purity can manifest itself, selfishness and struggles can be transcended. We have all sorts of problems because we are limited by our bodies and cultures, which generate all sorts of biases, and then induce a "self-attachment" that centers on the individual, the family, the country, the society or the culture. From our self-centered point of view, there are certain things that we all do and seem to be good for us; hence we recognize those things as correct and good. However, when we encounter other equally valid ways of doing things, we may come to realize that the difference is simply a matter of views; it is actually not a matter of right and wrong. You think that you are right, and people with different views think that they are right.
The formation of our preferences, prejudices, and biases are formed by the way we were brought up, our education and cultural backgrounds. As humans, we also have human limitations; for example, humans cannot hear certain sounds that are audible to dogs. Some people can see ghosts but others cannot. These are limitations of our biological senses. If you can transcend your biological and cultural limitations, you will understand that, actually, all beings are equal as sentient beings, and from Buddha's view at the time of his enlightenment, all sentient beings are of one and the same entity. The meaning of this oneness is not that I cannot differentiate this person from that person; the meaning is rather that, from the point of view that we are all sentient beings, all our minds are interconnected, and such interconnection is not limited by time and space. Such an idea may seem too abstract, and someone would even question whether this oneness is just a kind of illusion. For those skeptics, transcending cultural limitations may still sound plausible, but how can we transcend our biological limitations? Not to mention "transcending time and space!"
Before Buddha attained enlightenment, he saw the problems of birth, aging, sickness, and death in human life. Realizing that the throne was not very meaningful because it could not solve those problems when they would arise, he set out to solve these fundamental problems. After many very difficult ascetic practices, Buddha gradually elevated his spiritual state even to the same level as the heavenly Gods; however, he was so brilliant that, at that point, he could still sense a very subtle veil of "self-attachment." His final enlightenment was attained through destroying this finest and most fundamental "self-attachment" and thereby returning to the primordial state. The oneness that Buddha realized at that time, according to the Sutras and scriptures, was to be able to see clearly the Karma of all sentient beings of the three times, past, present and future. We are not Buddhas; so how can we know whether what the Sutras say are real or not? What can we rely on in order to accept and believe the Sutras? We can rely on the fact that, when we practice according to the methods spelled out in the Sutras, we will gradually discover that we can actually go beyond the limitations that we once thought were there.
For example, once when I was sitting in meditation, Mr. Xianwei Zeng, a Dharma friend from Miami , phoned me and said that his friend in Los Angeles had passed away. He asked me to perform Phowa (a Buddhist tantric method to transfer the consciousness of the deceased to Amitabha Buddha's Pureland) for his friend. Since I was meditating at that moment, I did not answer his call; I just heard his message through the telephone answering machine. While I was listening, the face of an old man with white hair, white mustaches, and small but bright eyes appeared in front of me on my right. After I had finished meditating, I immediately practiced Phowa for that deceased person. Then the same old man reappeared and walked into the Amitabha Buddha that I visualized; I could also see that he was somewhat hunched. I then phoned Mr. Zeng to tell him that I have just practiced Phowa for his deceased friend. I told him about the old man's appearance, which he confirmed, even though, as a matter of fact, I had never seen this person before, not even in photographs. Mr. Zeng called me from Miami , the deceased was in Los Angeles , and I was in the San Francisco Bay area; all these places are hundreds of miles apart. You may say that these things happened to me because I have some special power, yet that is not true. These things can happen to anyone of us, as long as our minds are pure, because we all possess such innate abilities. Others can also have this kind of experience; for example, when a very close relative passes away, he or she might approach you in a dream asking for some "hell-bank notes" or the deceased might appear to you even though he or she had passed away in a distant place.
Why do these incidents happen so rarely to us? It is because there are too many worldly vexations in our minds covering up our innate abilities. These vexations were not accumulated in just one or two days. They have been accumulating through life after life's self-centered thoughts, such as: I want this or that; my family wants this or that; how I want things to be, and haggling over this or that. When you are in the habit of haggling and grasping, you cannot get out of that mental framework. You are always surrounded by the self-centered thoughts, and you cannot even see what is beyond those thoughts and vexations, and because of habits you even do not want to leave such a state of vexations. How then can one get out? Buddhas and Bodhisattvas teach us a method that works on the root of the problem. The reason why we have such vexations is that we are so accustomed to thinking that I want this or that, to such an extent that we cannot get out of those thoughts. Hence, to solve the problem at the root is to work on our self-centered thinking. In other words, we take ourselves out of where we "always think about things related to us." Every single one of us has only a limited mental capacity which is used completely in relation to the self; in order to get out, one has to make use of a thought that is completely unrelated to the "self." Anything else will not get you out of that self-centered frame of mind. For example, when thinking of numbers, we will immediately associate with things like money, birthdays, etc. However, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas give us an object that is completely unrelated to the "self"-- the holy name of a Buddha. All worldly things are interconnected, but a Buddha's name is transcendental. You have to understand that the rationale of this method is to solve our problems at their root. Chanting the holy name of a Buddha is a very safe and solid method of practice. Of course, it is impossible to get out of all self-centered thinking immediately. Since you have been accustomed to this kind of thinking, it would be painful and unbearable to be forced out. However, chanting Amitabha everyday is like someone who is used to staying indoors, going to the door and looking outside for a while, and then a little longer day after day; then when you get used to the outside environment, you will be able to go out eventually.
All your mental powers are originally on the side of the "self," but, with things changing bit by bit through chanting Amitabha everyday over a long period of time, you will notice that your body will gradually loosen up. Normally, because our minds are all seriously entangled, our bodies are also tense. Problems like stomachaches, headaches and insomnia may arise when we are busy at work. Usually, we worry about many things; then, without realizing it ourselves, the body becomes very tense. However, by chanting Amitabha with concentration over a long period of time, you could really feel the loosening up of your body. Why is this so? You are originally very vexed, and the entire capacity of the mind is grasping at those vexations, causing the body to be tense. When you chant Amitabha , you will gradually loosen up layer by layer. Based on my experiences in chanting Amitabha , I could say that our attachment starts with very subtle mental ones, and then our bodies are affected as layer upon layer of entanglements are added. The outermost layer consists of very coarse entanglements which are the physical discomforts that we notice easily. These coarse entanglements will loosen up if we do good deeds and practice the chanting of Amitabha , prostrations, etc. However, unless we sincerely desire to abandon self-attachments completely, those mental entanglements will not really be untied. If you set a limit to the goal of your practice, those entanglements could never be untied.
The purpose of chanting Amitabha is for one to reform completely including the subtlest and deepest places in the mind. You need to change this selfish mind and to understand that this self-nurturing mind is actually harming you. If you only care for yourself, you will not be able to see things truly because the mind is completely biased. Even though you may be a good person free from bad motives, you still think only for your own well-being and thereby, in effect, have surrounded yourself with a wall, where you are enclosed and will remain encaged, in the sense that your life cannot extend beyond this wall of mind. When you care only for yourself, there will bound to be problems, because no one in the world can guarantee that you will not get old or that aging does not affect you. When you love only your children, who can guarantee their longevity? Who can guarantee a good marriage and career for them? Anything could happen; there are all sorts of ups and downs in life, and no one is protected from them! Of course, according to Buddhism, this is the result of Karma (cause and effect). If you had committed many bad deeds in the past so that consequences in this life are undesirable, you need to gradually change your conduct in this life by doing as many good deeds as you can and to refrain from doing bad deeds. However, at a deeper level, if we do only a few good deeds which cannot compensate for the bad deeds committed in the past, then we would still experience ups and downs in this life. If you care only about yourself or a few persons, when can your mind become peaceful? It never can! Therefore, once you understand this point, you would know that thinking only about yourself is the same as doing harm to yourself.
On the contrary, you should consider the fact that everyone has the same problems of birth, aging, sickness, and death, and that everyone is capable of experiencing happiness and suffering. How then can we increase everyone's happiness and reduce their suffering? If you can look at the world and guide your conduct with this line of thinking, you will become peaceful. Why? When one's mind opens up like that, although there will still be problems in life, how one handles these problems would be very different. As people realize others' problems are the same as their own, everyone would be willing to help one another! Problems could then be resolved easily. Everyone dies, but if you have universal love, even after the ones who are close or related to you have passed away, you can still serve and take care of others who are alive. Then your life would become very much alive and would not be reduced to a withering stalemate. Even though you may wish to take care of your children for their entire lives, there are still many aspects that you cannot possibly take care of. If you do not teach them how to open up to serve and love others, they might live in vexation for their entire lives, and so would you. Everyone would be trapped in entanglements such as constantly worrying about: how are my sons and daughters? And the children would be similarly trapped: how are my father and my mother? No one would become happy this way, so what's the point of remaining so?
If you engage in Dharma service, you will gradually obtain liberation. Why? It is not necessary that you engage in some special activity. As long as you, even though remaining in your position, change your basic attitude to that of serving others instead of arguing with others over how much work to do and how you are compensated. Don't go for the haggling route, go for the service route. The more you serve, the more worthwhile you will feel upon your death. You can bring nothing with you when you die. Take a walk in the cemetery, and you will see each one has only a tombstone! Even this may not be found by your decedents after a hundred years. Particularly in modern society, many people do not even know where their grandparents' graves are. At the end there will be at most a tombstone there; what's the point of competing? Worldly things are not as steadfast as they seem to be! In order to pass away peacefully and to live joyfully for the rest of your life, you can rely only on your loving heart. As you serve others with one measure of effort, you would obtain one measure of peace; only this has lasting value and is of real comfort. Do not be fooled by the "self."
Furthermore, engaging in Dharma service can actually be very easy; it is not necessary that you do go to certain places to do something special. As long as you give others a hand wherever you can in daily life, and that would be a correct approach! For example, if you see a child falling, you should not be uncaring because the child is not yours, instead you should help the child up immediately. That is what we should do. If a stranger is feeling thirsty, you simply offer him a cup of water. That is what we should do. If your mind is entirely on serving others, your whole life will become meaningful; other worldly things are not worth competing for.
If you think along these lines, you would understand that chanting Amitabha is a very active endeavor. It is not a way to evade worldly problems, but is based on a clear view as to how such problems can be fundamentally resolved. Some people claim to have the intent to improve society and cry out numerous political ideologies; however, eventually those people are just trying to force others to accept their ideas. In reality, it is still the same, just a group of people ruling over others. If those reformers are not pure at heart, or if they become corrupted after gaining power, then it is still the same. Even though during revolutionary movement those reformers had made wonderful pledges, once they are in power, they would in turn become the object of revolution because they have become the same as the previous rulers. So we can see that this is not the way to really solve the problems. Besides, some things cannot be forced upon others; for example, although small children have a pure heart, it is unlikely that one can teach them how to have universal love for others. We have gradually learned to have loving kindness for others only after experiencing much suffering in life and then realizing the painful results of being selfish; this is also a kind of enlightenment. Hence, it is impossible for one to force others or control others, all one can do is simply to manage oneself.
Chanting Amitabha is a kind of enlightenment; the process starts with taking charge of oneself; then when one's mind becomes pure, the society would have one less bad person and less problems. Starting from there, when you can practice to the degree that you can make others feel impressed and touched, only then can you function as a Bodhisattva. If you are not mature and knowledgeable enough, but you think you are practicing the Bodhisattva's path and intervene in others' business, insisting on your views without seeing that you are speaking without sufficient understanding of the matters; how bad would that be? You would be simply messing up others' business! Therefore, the practice of chanting Amitabha entails profound insight and mature considerations; it is actively solving fundamental problems in the world. Think for yourself, how many minds are so pure as to be capable of enduring such solitude and constantly chant Amitabha ? How many? It is not an easy practice. However, when you are getting bored and lonely but you can still persevere with the practice, that boredom by itself would become an assisting condition for the development of your mental strength. Those who chant Amitabha well are no longer bothered by worldly matters. Therefore, he or she would not be greedy and would be free from the suffering due to greed. Facing a given situation, some may feel angry, but others may say there is no need to be annoyed, and still others may even not be disturbed at all-- those who can do this are liberated from it. Therefore, when you chant Amitabha frequently, you are naturally liberated from many things. While others are suffering from this and that, you would not even have those problems; for you many problems would be transcended by just a repetition of " Amitabha. "
Who knows what will happen in life? In Malaysia traffic accidents are very common. Although you are sound and healthy now, if you are caught in an accident, you might even lose a limb. When encountering these incidents, without spiritual strength, one would blame god and others. Some would grumble for the rest of their lives, while others might need a few years before getting rid of this attitude. If you have been practicing, even though there is no guarantee in life, when you encounter misfortunes, you will be more capable of handling the situation peacefully and realistically.
So far I have not yet emphasized that chanting Amitabha can actually enable one to receive blessings from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The reason for my not doing so is that, generally, novice practitioners cannot easily feel the blessings of Buddhas. Therefore, I started the talk with only general principles. However, all sincere practitioners who have had certain miraculous experiences should also inform the public of such facts. Buddha has realized the oneness of all, and has transcended the limits of time and space. When you believe in Buddha and chant his name, you can easily become connected to him. From my own experiences in Buddhist practices, there is no way to describe fully the sensation that one experiences when one receives blessings from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It can only be described by a comparison to receiving a charge of electricity. A force would suddenly surround your entire body, and one's feeling of the body will be gone. Blessings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are truly that strong, as experienced by people like me, who have been practicing for a long time. When you chant Amitabha , you are gradually connecting yourself with Buddhas and are also gradually obtaining such blessings. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas teach us to be good, to do good deeds and not to do bad things. When we follow these guidelines, our personal Karma will improve and thus reducing some of our problems. Major misfortune could thus be reduced to smaller incidents. Furthermore, protectors of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will protect you to ensure the safety and stability of your whole life.
If you can teach your children the practice of chanting Amitabha , they will have protection that no one can take away! If you give them worldly things instead, the more you give them, the more troubles they will have. If they cannot manage those things, it will be very troublesome, and they might even become the victim of others' avarice. We should be mindful of Buddhist practices; they are genuine. I have learned that someone is about to pass away tonight, and some of you will attend him by chanting Amitabha during his final hours. This illustrates how useful the chanting of Amitabha is. For that dying person nothing except chanting Amitabha can really help now. Some people who had practiced chanting Amitabha for a long time, when dying, urged others to help by chanting Amitabha loudly because they realized that chanting was really helpful at the time of dying. The problem of death is mainly due to people having lost their innocence in life. Ideally, the processes of birth and death should both be natural and relatively painless. When a child is born, since he or she is so pure and innocent that the body is very soft and tender, he or she experiences comparatively little pain. Why do we suffer so much when dying? It is because the body has been entangled and stiffened for the entire life. Ordinary ways of thinking involve too many worldly considerations and calculations; as a result, ligaments and wind channels are either convoluted or blocked. All of this will gradually happen with aging. At the time of death, when one's consciousness is trying to leave the body, can you imagine how tormenting it would be if the ligaments and wind channels are either convoluted or blocked? Very much so, of course. However, if you start the practice of chanting Amitabha now, after a long time, both your body and mind will gradually loosen up, and death will then become just a natural process without suffering. That is why for those who had practiced chanting Amitabha for a long time, their bodies would still be soft and supple even after many hours have passed. As those people had solved the problems related to death before death actually comes, death then becomes only a natural process without suffering. Life is unpredictable; no one knows when death will arrive. Chanting Amitabha will eventually yield fruitful results. It is good for the practitioner as well as for others.
There are also other ways to practice Buddhism, such as meditation, Chan, Tantra, etc. So, why do we advocate chanting Amitabha ? Generally speaking, we are all occupied by worldly matters, career and family, and we do not have enough time to concentrate our efforts completely to practice. Of course, it would be best to practice full time but, just as only a few people in the whole world can work up to compete in the Olympic games, full time practitioners are also very few. It is impossible for ordinary people like most of us to attain a high level of practice immediately. However, if you are willing to do training at home and participate in local tournaments, you may gradually become capable of participating in the Olympic games. Those more profound methods of practice require full devotion in order to obtain any results. However, if we can start with chanting Amitabha regularly, then when the pure thought of Amitabha, Amitabha, is continuously ever present, we might be able to devote fully to the practice of meditation, Chan or Tantra.
A safe and stable practice for ordinary people like us is the step by step approach of chanting Amitabha . There is no need to form an organization, lest there would be a lot of problems related to personal relationships, interests, etc., jeopardizing the whole purpose of practice. Everyone's view differs; so even when each individual has good intentions, there could still be disputes. For example, when an old father is seriously ill in bed, his sons and daughters, due to their love for the father, could quarrel over whether or not it is better to bathe him. Some think that bathing is good for him, but others think that bathing could cause him to easily catch cold afterwards. Each side would insist on their own views to the extend that fighting could erupt. Things in the world are indeed very difficult; serious conflicts can still exist even when everyone wants to do good.
Chanting Amitabha would reduce these kinds of problems. Each one needs only to do well with one's chanting practice; and there is no possibility of being misguided or deceived. Everyone just chants individually until the benefits are really felt, then one would know how to advise others on chanting Amitabha . As to advising others to adopt this practice, you need to proceed gradually because it cannot be pushed. For example, when you see someone suffering, you can counsel that person to open up, help him or her see that life is impermanent, and there is a way to go from vexation to liberation. There is one more important point: when a person is suffering, would he or she open up easily just because someone else tells him or her to do so? Of course not! Can he or she let go just because someone else tells him or her to do so? Of course not! Without the spiritual strength built from chanting practices, when you suffer very much from illness and physical weakness, what can you do to obtain relief? The situation would be totally different for those who have regularly practiced chanting Amitabha because those people would have already opened up and let go of worldly sorrows a long time ago. That is the result achieved inconspicuously through years of chanting Amitabha . If the force of your chanting practice is strong enough, you would not suffer in situations where others would. This kind of liberation will be achieved only through long-term diligent practice. Why would you not suffer in those situations? Since you are all loosened and unclogged inside, you will naturally feel different. You can see that the top of my head was originally going to become bald, but, after all these years of practice, new hair is now coming out again without any medical treatment at all. That shows, as long as you practice well, the body and mind will change naturally. The reason I am talking about this, is to help people understand that chanting Amitabha is useful; helping a dying person by chanting Amitabha is also very useful. Besides, chanting Amitabha is also very useful for calming one's mind.
In general, as long as you can make it a habit to practice, you may also choose to chant sutras or certain long mantras. However, I prefer advising people to chant Amitabha . Why? The purpose of this practice is ultimately to help us in situations of life and death. In case of an emergency, like a dangerous car accident, you need to be able to cry out " Amitabha " immediately without even thinking about it, and, at that moment, only this pure thought should be in your mind. Even when one is old, weak, or sick, etc., one would not have to be bothered to remember what the next sentence is. After all, there are only four syllables to the word Amitabha . You simply need to say "Amitabha, Amitabha," and can easily rely on it. If you can get into the habit of chanting, you need to chant most urgently at the time when you suffer the most. You would then have a chance to pull yourself out from suffering and vexation. How could you spare yourself from suffering if you do not have something to rely on? So this point is very important; the chanting amounts to a lifesaving rope that you can hold on to in case of an emergency.
In the ultimate sense, "one should abide nowhere while the mind arises;" we do not need to abide anywhere! Isn't chanting Amitabha "abiding somewhere?" However, when the ultimate has not yet been achieved, one needs something to hold on to; otherwise, how could we get help? Besides, that the mind "should abide nowhere," does not mean to be tied down by the concept of "abiding nowhere" and refusing to get hold of anything. What immediately follows is "while the mind arises;" that is to say, one should have no attachment on one hand, and to lively apply oneself on the other hand. So, actually, chanting Amitabha is exactly in accordance with "abiding nowhere while the mind arises." Why? Right after I chant " Amitabha ," it has passed by already; i.e., the " Amitabha " just chanted is already in the past, and I am not staying with that word. What I now chant is a new instance of " Amitabha. " This is an instance of lively applying oneself! If fact, a true understanding of "one should abide nowhere while the mind arises," would lead to lively activities and limitless applications, instead of being tied down. The flexible and lively original state is called "abiding nowhere while the mind arises." Who said that all the instances of " Amitabha " chanted are the same one? You are just being tied down by the concept of their being the same word. If you can liberate yourself from the sphere of this concept, each " Amitabha " you chant is a new one. When you are chanting Amitabha , you are also practicing "abiding nowhere while the mind arises." You are practicing lively application, practicing to achieve pure application such that this thought is simply " Amitabha ."
If your mind can be purified to the extent that only " Amitabha " remains in your thoughts, then you will gradually approach Samadhi while you practice the chanting. You do not need to learn meditation separately, the same Samadhi experience would naturally arise during your chanting of Amitabha . If you can achieve this in your thoughts, i.e., achieving purity and liberation with the thoughts, you will gradually realize the state of liberation in form, sound, smell, taste, and touch. You could even achieve liberation while watching television-- even though the scenes on the screen could be very violent or indecent, when your mind is pure, you would see them as no different from " Amitabha ."
That may sound too abstruse; nevertheless, you need to understand that eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are basically one entity. You need only to learn to be pure in the applications of the six senses: form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental activities. However, it is very difficult to purify the complex experiences all together; hence, you should start from the thoughts. When you achieve Samadhi in thinking, then that experience will gradually and naturally spread to other senses. Therefore, chanting Amitabha will not result in being confined to Amitabha ; rather, with the help of "Amitabha," one would become a lively person.
What is the meaning of "Amitabha" ? It means infinite life and infinite light. Infinite life means limitless in time, and infinite light means limitless in space; the most important emphasis is on this "limitlessness." Implied in this "limitlessness" is "oneness." The Buddha light of Amitabha illuminates all. It does not illuminate only you without illuminating others; Buddha illuminates everyone equally. Besides, Amitabha Buddha is everyone's primordial Buddha nature; in other words, we are originally like that. Therefore, when one attains liberation as a result of adopting Buddhist practices, one has simply returned to the original state. This attainment is not like winning championships in sports where continuing efforts are needed to remain on top. Liberation, however, is just a returning to one's original purity.
When you start chanting Amitabha , you know that Amitabha means "limitlessness," but, after practicing for a long time, you would transcend the sphere of meanings. Genuine "limitlessness" must transcend even human conceptualization. In guiding us the Dharma begins with using concepts because we are all living within the bounds of concepts. All concepts are limited and making distinctions; how then can we break through the bounds of concepts? We say " Amitabha " means "limitlessness," meaning that first we need to abandon the limitation of all other concepts. This is not to say that eventually we cannot make distinctions. We will still be able to make distinctions; otherwise, how can Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin, Chenrezig) transform into thirty two kinds of emanations to give salvation in whatever way that is most suitable? He can still make distinctions and make use of the distinctions flexibly without being bound by the distinctions. The problem facing us is that once we make distinctions, we are bound by them. Hence, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas teach us limitlessness, telling us not to be bound by distinctions, and to learn compassion of the same entity, to be able to open up, love and serve others. After chanting Amitabha for a long time the thought will become pure; once the thought is pure, conceptualization will naturally disappear. The meanings do not disappear purposely. If there is any intention, then one still remains in concepts and can not get out. Without any intention, the transcendence occurs naturally. After practicing for a long time, thoughts will become very pure, just " Amitabha ." Thoughts of " Amitabha , Amitabha . . . " continues without considering the meaning.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas teach us Limitless-Oneness, and they also pass down many ethical rules to regulate our lives so as to assist in gradually attaining Buddhahood. However, when we unexpectedly encounter events in life, we ordinary people would not be able to remember so many rules; what we need is a very basic principle for practical guidance. This principle can be described from two sides: the active side is to open up, the passive side is to let go of attachments. We are now very limited-- we would feel very troubled about many things mainly because our vision is limited, and we might blame others or our fate by grumbling. However, as you grow older and have seen more of life, you might say, "Luckily, things were not any worse. It could have been even worse." When faced with the same situation, you might have suffered much when you were young, but then you look at it again when you get old, you could feel that it was actually not too bad. Therefore, when we learn Buddhism, we are learning the wisdom born of our predecessors' accumulated experiences. Thus we might spared ourselves avoidable suffering. We should learn to open up: always take into consideration the long term consequences and all various perspectives. Looking at others' situations and realizing that there is so much suffering everywhere, you will easily become liberated from your preoccupation. If you tell others these principles when you help them, then they would also be able to let go of their worries easily.
Opening up on one side, and no attachment, i.e., to let go, on the other side. Worldly things are ultimately of no avail; what really is your money? The instant you die, the money will no longer be yours. However, if while the money is still in your hands you can use it to benefit others, then those benefitted would gratefully acknowledge, "It was given by so and so; it was done by so and so." and thus the money became truly yours. Only money spent for the common well-being will become truly yours. If you let it just sit there, that is not really yours. Zhu Yuanzhang was an orphan at an early age, and hence became a Buddhist novice monk because he had no other way to feed himself. Nevertheless, eventually he conquered all of China and became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. If your children are really capable, you do not need to worry about them; inheritance could even turn out to be a burden. If you leave a huge inheritance to your descendants who are incapable of handling it, they might become the target of some malevolent persons. It would be better to simply let them live happily on their own. What you can really give and benefit them are these Buddhist teachings; these teachings would enable them not to become preoccupied with comparing and competing with others. Then they would live peacefully and happily for the rest of their lives.
That is all I can think of right now. If you have any questions, especially questions about the practice of chanting Amitabha , please by all means ask me. As long as you have a clear understanding, you will chant Amitabha with more interest and confidence. One additional practice worth recommending is a weekend retreat. A weekend is one and a half day long in Malaysia , so Dharma friends can take turns in practicing and supporting retreats. The key rules to follow in conducting retreats are the prohibition of speech and the confinement of one's sphere of activities. For example, you can specify a room and a washroom as the boundary of your retreat and stay within it. During retreats, do not answer telephone calls; do not read newspapers, magazines and letters; do not allow visitors; do not watch television or listen to radio; and do not talk to yourself either. In retreats, you can chant Amitabha , prostrate to Buddha, read sutras and scriptures. You can still have three meals, bathe or shower, sleep, but no snacks. This is to practice solitude and concentration on Dharma practice. If you can endure solitude, your vexation would lighten while your spiritual strength would grow alongside, then you can handle problems in life more easily. Please do practice!
A Question from the Audience
A: Yes, you may do so. One good thing about the practice of chanting Amitabha is that it can be done anywhere, and cleanliness is not a problem. Women can chant the holy name during menstruation or while delivering babies. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are like loving parents who would not be deterred by the dirtiness of their babies' excretion but would voluntarily clean it up. One can chant even in the toilet or anywhere else. The main purpose is to achieve Limitless-Oneness through chanting. Therefore, you can chant at any time, and try to chant continuously all the time. Chanting Amitabha may seem very simple, but you will realize that indeed it is very difficult once you are actually practicing it. For novice practitioners, right after the first chanting of " Amitabha " and before the second one begins, many scattered thoughts would have arisen already. It is very difficult to achieve the state where there is not a sense of separation between any two consecutive chants of Amitabha . It is very difficult to maintain the continuity of chanting Amitabha in one's heart. Very profound efforts are involved in achievements of this practice!
A Dharma Lecture given in Chinese by Dr. Yutang Lin
July 2, 1993 Human Life Buddhist Center , Melaka, Malaysia
Transcribed by Tan Suan Kuang
Translated by Stanley Lam
Edited by Ann Klein and Dr. Lin